On this week’s podcast, I asked if the breakdown in GOP discipline may be related to the splintering of the Republican party under the weight of Tea Party groups, Paultards, and mavericky Alaskans who don’t care for your establishment tastes thank you very much. But after further thought I wonder if the overarching breakdown in party discipline isn’t just as attributable to the rise of the conservative SuperPAC.
Ever since the Supreme Court decided to overturn about 100 years of precedent on the grounds that Obama outraised the GOP in 2008 Freedom of Speech, multiple conservative groups have propped up to collect unlimited, shadowy contributions in order to blast Barack Obama and other Democrats with constant ad buys. Conservative SuperPACs are crushing Democrats in fundraising, driven largely by a handful of individuals like Sheldon Adelson giving millions to the cause, while average Americans are limited by campaign finance laws and the fact that we don’t keep millions in money in our mattress earned by committing possible crimes in Macau.
But for every “Super” there is a weakness. A tragic flaw that prevents invincibility. In the case of SuperPACs, this Kryptonite is the rule barring the candidate’s campaign from coordinating the efforts of the billionaire fueled media machines. This can result in overzealous armchair politicians like Adelson or Foster Friess or the Koch brothers producing ads that violate a central campaign strategy. Romney tries to focus on the economy — -billionaire Joe Ricketts produces an ad about Jeremiah Wright. The campaign and national committee cannot scold the SuperPAC directly. Nor can they criticize the donors indirectly lest they offend one of their big ticket donors. When most of your contributions come from a handful of rich people, losing one is a potential disaster.
For an up and coming politician, why tow the line set by the RNC when garnering the support of Americans for Prosperity is more lucrative? This is the Grover Norquist problem writ large. Now the personal political whims of a handful of individuals can dictate, through their dollars, the course of the Republican party. In this environment, the only way a GOP candidate can succeed in setting strategy is to bring these donors to heel through the sheer force of charisma. Mitt Romney is not that candidate and it’s difficult to see who could fill that role for the Republicans long term.
And the problem is not limited to substantive policy direction. The phenomenon has also created a brain drain within the Republican ranks. For talented consultants with a sense of campaign strategy and tactics, why consult with the national committee or a Presidential campaign when you can head your own shop with much more money at your disposal? Who might I be talking about?
Someone once said that the worst part of politics was having to listen to the inane ideas of powerful donors and bundlers. In the modern landscape of conservative politics, now the American public has to listen to them as well. Whether the Republican party wants us to or not.